Siegfried and Martha Roether

The names of Siegfried and Martha Roether are inscribed on the Cardiff Reform Synagogue Holocaust Memorial Tablet. It is not documented who sponsored their names, but it was almost certainly Clara Crailsheimer (née Rosenthal), sister to Martha. Clara came to Cardiff as a refugee in the late 1930s. The names of their brother Adolf Rosenthal and his wife Gertrude also appear on the memorial.

 

Siegfried Roether.

 

Siegfried was born on 8 September 1877 to Löb (or Loch/Louis) and Bertha (née Haas) in the small Bavarian village of Reckendorf, near Bamberg, some 75 km to the north of Nuremberg (Nürnberg in German). The name Roether has numerous alternative spellings in documents, the most common being Röther and Roeder.

 

Although it is not known for certain exactly where Siegfried was born, it is likely that it was in the ‘Roeder’ house identified as such by Adelheid Waschka, a local historian specialising in the Jewish community of the region.

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1849 map of Reckendorf showing ‘Roeder’ house (120) to the northeast of the main square.

 

Image credit Bayerische Vermessungsverwaltung.

Creative Commons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/.

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Roeder’ House, Eidelgasse 1, December 2020. The house was completely renovated in 2020.

 

Image courtesy of Adelheid Waschka.

His father Löb was born in 1825 but little else is known about him. We know though that his first wife was Pola (Babette) Kohnfelder, born in Eggloffstein, who died in February 1861 aged 37 and is buried in Reckendorf. He then married Bertha, daughter of Samuel Haas, a draper from Reckendorf, and Esther (née Hellman) of Burghaslach, in June of the same year. In about 1873 Löb took his family to the nearby town of Bamberg where he died in January 1890. He is buried in the Jewish Cemetery there.

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Gravestone of Löb Röther in Bamberg Jewish Cemetery.

 

Image courtesy of Adelheid Waschka.[1]

 

It is not known how many children there were from Löb’s two marriages. Some of them are known only because their names are inscribed on gravestones in the particularly well preserved – and researched – Jewish cemetery in Reckendorf. There could well have been more.

 

Children born to Löb and Pola.

 

  • Bertha Roether, born in 1854.    

                                               

  • Gidel (Karolina) Roether, born in 1856; she died in 1861 of scarlet fever.

 

After the death of Pola, Samuel Haas’s brother Abraham became the legal guardian of these two girls.

 

Children born to Löb and Bertha.

 

  • Mathilde Roether, born 1863; she died of Typhus in 1873.

 

  • Wilhelm Roether, born 2 October 1865. Information on Wilhelm is sparse. It is known that he became a shareholder in the firm of W. Roether & Co in 1893 and was most likely the founder. The company was a manufacturer of a German-French Cognac and was based at Lammsgasse 12, in Nuremberg. He married Paulina Allstadt in Mannheim in 1898. It is not known if they had any children. He died on 10 February 1932 in Nuremberg.

  • Karl Roether, born 30 October 1868. In 1883, aged only 15, Karl emigrated to the United States where he settled in El Paso, Texas. His uncle Isaac Haas, his mother’s younger brother, had already settled there and established a business. Karl became a naturalised US citizen there in 1891. One of his two passport applications was witnessed by Isaac who went on to become an important figure in the nascent Jewish community of El Paso. On the 1891 application Karl is listed as a clerk, and on the 1897 one as a grocer. A tax inventory in 1897 lists his property as being one horse, a waggon, and a $1000 worth of merchandise, and a newspaper notice of the same year states that he was having a ‘closing out’ sale with all stock to go. Perhaps that is when he returned to Germany because the next we learn anything about Karl is when he was deported from Nuremberg to Theresienstadt on 10 September 1942.[2][i] He boarded transport 11/25, Train Da 512 and was given number 637 for the journey. He died in Theresienstadt on 18 February 1943. He was never married.

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Promotional Stamp of W. Roether & Co. These stamps were commonly produced by companies in the early 20th century. Today they are widely collected. 

 Image credit W. Roether & Co.

Image courtesy of Adelheid Waschka. 

Of Siegfried himself, once again little is known.

 

We know that he served in the German Army in the First World War, serving in several Bavarian units following his recruitment in 1915. He saw service in Belgium, and on the Eastern Front in Galicia. In July 1917, he was promoted to ‘Unteroffizier’ (there is no exact British equivalent – somewhere between Corporal and Sergeant).

 

On the business front, we know that he became a shareholder in the cognac producing firm of W. Roether & Co in 1905. After his brother’s death in 1932, the firm disappears from Nuremberg address books, so it is clear that Siegfried did not keep the company going. His profession in Nuremberg is variously given as manufacturer or ‘Kaufmann’ (businessmen/trader), so it is not clear what he did, or if he was just a sleeping partner in the distillery.

 

Martha Roether (née Rosenthal).

 

Martha was born in the town of Mayen, 40 km to the west of Koblenz, on 18 December 1882 to Elias and Amalie (née May). Elias was a wealthy property agent whose business interests extended as far as Bonn some 60 km distant. He was also the head of the Jewish community in Mayen for many years and chair of his local Chewra Kadischo Bachurim, a young men’s organisation one of whose aims was to encourage and support young Jews into an appropriate profession.

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Elias Rosenthal, father of Martha (from Israelitisches Gemeindeblatt, 1906).

 

Image courtesy of Hans-Dieter Arntz.

Martha had two brothers and four sisters.

 

  • Clementine Rosenthal, born in Mayen in 1872. She married Selmar Heilbrunn. She fled Germany before the war and in 1939 was living with her sister Clara in Haslemere, Surrey. She died in 1961 in London.

 

  • Adolf Rosenthal, born in Mayen on 11 August 1873. He married Gertrude Heilbrunn, sister of Selmar. He had a distinguished legal career, ultimately becoming Landgerichtdirector (lead judge) for the Aachen area. He was also the head of the Aachen Jewish community until his deportation to Theresienstadt on 19 June 1943, and then to Auschwitz on 28 October 1944.[ii] No records of Adolf’s registration at the camp exist, so we can assume that he was gassed upon arrival. He would have been amongst one of the last transports to arrive at Auschwitz and be murdered on arrival, as the gassing operations ceased in November 1944.

 

  • Otto Rosenthal, born in Mayen in 1876. He married Katharina Klassen and served during the First World War in the aircraft procurement division of the German forces at an airbase in Bavaria. He died at Maastricht in 1937.

 

  • Clara (Claire) Rosenthal, born in Mayen in 1877. She married Salomon (Solly) Crailsheimer. It is believed that they lived in Salomon’s hometown of Hohebach, Baden-Württemberg, before moving to Strasbourg where her son Paul was born in 1903. They also had a daughter, Susanna (Susi). Clara, widowed, fled Germany before the war with Paul and both eventually settled in Rhydypenau Road, in Cardiff. Paul was interned as an enemy alien, and despite having co-founded the firm Chemical Compounds Ltd in Taff’s Well, was transported to Australia having already survived the sinking of the Arandora Star. Clara died in 1965.

 

  • Emilie (Emmy) Rosenthal, born in Mayen in 1881. She married Max Michel Groedel, a wool merchant. They too managed to escape Germany, and in late 1939 were living in Bournemouth. They emigrated to America in 1943. Emilie applied for naturalisation in 1949 and died in 1953.

 

  • Henrietta (Hanni), most likely born in Mayen like her siblings, but no birth record has been found. She married Gustav Crailsheimer, brother of Solly, also a Hohebach, Baden-Württemberg, born manufacturer. Like her sister Clara, she spent time in Strasbourg where a son Friedrich Jacob was born. A 1926 directory for Baden-Baden shows Gustav (and presumably Hanni) living there with his sister-in-law Clara. She died in 1937 in Frankfurt am Main.

 

Siegfried Roether and Martha Rosenthal.

 

Siegfried and Martha married on 8 April 1907 in Heidelberg and the following month the couple took up residence in Frommannstraße 14, Nuremberg, where they stayed until 1936. They then moved to Wetzendorfer Straße 1 on the north-western outskirts of the city. They had no children.

 

Like all Jews, they were subject to increasing persecution, and the Nuremberg city archives have a record of Siegfried being summonsed to surrender his valuables – silver goods, watches, and jewellery.

 

On 24 March 1942 Siegfried and Martha were deported from Nuremberg to the Izbica Ghetto near Lublin, Poland. This was the second transport of Jews from the Franconia district of Bavaria and contained 990 deportees. There is no record of what happened to them after that, and there are no known survivors of this transport.

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Siegfried and Martha on a post-war list of deportees from Nuremberg to Izbica.[3]

 

Image credit Arolsen Archives, 1.2.1.1/11195011/ITS Digital Archive.

 

The Izbica Ghetto.

 

Before the outbreak of the war Izbica was a predominantly Yiddish-speaking Jewish village but was turned by the Nazis into a transit ghetto for Polish, and later German, Austrian and other Jews who were destined for the extermination camps of Bełżec and Sobibór.

 

Izbica was not a ‘closed’ ghetto but was enclosed on three sides by hills and on the fourth by a river, so was effectively cut off. Jews, however, were not allowed beyond the town’s borders. Despite this, there was some clandestine trade between the ghetto and local Poles.

 

The ghetto was administered by Jewish Councils (Judenrat; plural: Judenräte), under the direction of the Commandant, Kurt Engels, said to be a loud and erratic psychopathic murderer. In 1942, the Nazis set up one Judenrat for the Polish Jews and one for the Jews transported to Izbica. This caused friction between the Polish Jews and the more western assimilated Jews that had been transported, and there was a conflict between the two groups.

 

On 24 March 1942, the same date as Siegfried and Martha were transported there, and presumably to make room for the new arrivals, 2200 Polish Jews were rounded up and sent to Bełżec. During the summer and autumn of 1942, there were several other deportations to Bełżec and Sobibór, starting with Polish Jews but also increasingly non-Polish Jews. The deportations were brutal and those in October and November particularly horrific – residents were rounded up by the local police and loaded onto trains, with those who could not fit on either being shot at the station or crammed into buildings where many suffocated, the survivors being executed several days later.

 

In all, some 20,000 Jews passed through Izbica, and only 14 of the pre-war Jewish inhabitants survived the Holocaust.

 

Reckendorf.

 

In the middle of the 19th century Reckendorf, the birthplace of Siegfried, was a small village of about 1000 inhabitants, the Jewish proportion being about 30% at times, represented by 40 or more families. The village had its own synagogue, and a Rabbi until 1866 when the community came under the jurisdiction of a neighbouring district.

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Reckendorf Synagogue, c. 1911.

 

Image credit Richard N. and Rhoda Haas Goldman papers, 1863-1996, BANC MSS 2010/687, The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, The Bancroft Library.

Creative Commons Licence: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/.

From the late 1830s, many Jewish young men of the village decided to emigrate and seek their fortunes in the United States.

 

Reference has already been made to the Haas and Hellman relations of Siegfried, and to Isaac Haas in El Paso, but there were other members of the extended Hass and Hellman families from Reckendorf, who settled in California and made significant and lasting contributions to the life of their adopted country.

 

Abraham Haas, with his brother Jacob and fellow Reckendorfer Herman Hellman, established the firm of Hellman, Haas and Company, a retail drug and grocery store in Los Angeles and soon branched out into other fields including flour milling and cold storage. He also pioneered the ‘cash and carry’ concept in the area.

 

Abraham’s son Walter also made good, inheriting a clothing company from his wife’s uncle, a certain Löb (Levi) Strauss. He became president of Levi Strauss & Co, turned it around, and the rest is history. Today the Haas family is amongst the richest in the USA.

 

And Isaias Hellmann, another Reckendorfer and brother of Hermann, was a prominent banker in California. He started on a small scale and went on to found the first successful bank in Los Angeles. In 1890, he moved to San Francisco where he took over the Nevada Bank. He eventually bought out the banking division of Wells Fargo and was president of the merged Wells Fargo Nevada National Bank of San Francisco until his death in 1920. His sister-in-law married Mayer Lehman, also a north Bavarian Jew, one of the founders of Lehman Brothers.

Written by John Farnhill, JHASW volunteer.

 

 

Acknowledgements.

 

Thanks are due to Barbara Booth, great-niece of Martha Roether (née Rosenthal) for her help in piecing together the various branches of the Rosenthal family, and Adelheid Waschka, Reckendorf historian, of Bamberg, Bavaria, who provided the information about Siegfried’s hometown.

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Footnotes and endnotes.

 

[1] The photo was taken with kind permission of Chasan Arieh Rudolph, chair of the Bamberg Jewish Culture-Community.

[2] Karl was on the same transport as Moritz and Gustav Rebitzer, whose names also appear on the Cardiff Memorial Tablet.

[3] Siegfried Rebitzer and his wife Sofie were on the same transport from Nuremberg to Izbica as Martha and Siegfried Roether. Siegfried Rebitzer’s uncles Gustav and Moritz Rebitzer are also named on the Cardiff Memorial Tablet and were on the same transport to Theresienstadt as Karl Roether.

 

[i] The Theresienstadt (Terezín) Concentration Camp/Ghetto was a camp located approximately 30 miles north of Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic, and operated from 1941 until 1945. The camp was a walled ghetto and housed Jews from Western Europe. The camp was used as a transit camp before they were sent to other ghettos in the East and the extermination camps in Nazi-occupied Poland. The camp also used forced labour. Life in Terezín was extremely difficult; overcrowding led to a shortage of food and disease was rife. Despite this, Jews managed to have a clandestine cultural life, with many artists, writers and lecturers providing secret performances.

 

The Nazis used Terezín for propaganda purposes and when the Red Cross visited it in June 1944, large numbers of prisoners were deported to Auschwitz before the inspection to alleviate the issue of overcrowding: rooms were painted; flowerbeds planted; a park erected for children; a fake cafe and shops were opened. Almost immediately after the inspection, most of the remaining Jews were sent to Auschwitz.

 

Until its liberation on 8 May 1945, between 140,000 and 155,000 passed through Terezín, including 15,000 children. Between 33,000 and 35,000 perished in the camp itself and around 88,000 were deported to almost certain death in the extermination camps.

[ii] The Auschwitz – Birkenau Concentration and Extermination Camp.

 

In April 1940, after the invasion of Poland, Heinrich Himmler ordered the construction of a concentration camp on the site of the former army barracks in Oświęcim, in occupied Poland: thus Auschwitz, the largest and most infamous of concentration camps came into existence.

 

Rudolf Höss was its first commandant, from 4 May 1940 to 10 November 1943, followed by Arthur Liebenschal, who remained in the post until 8 May 1944 when Höss returned to Auschwitz for the extermination of the Hungarian Jews.

 

Auschwitz had over 40 sub-camps and a forced labour camp at Monowitz, the site of the IG Farben industrial complex, producing synthetic rubber and liquid fuels. Life was extremely difficult; hunger, disease, hard labour and punishments made it hard to survive. Roll call was particularly gruelling, with prisoners having to stand for hours in the freezing cold or in the searing heat to make sure that numbers tallied.

 

The first inmates were Polish political prisoners, but when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Himmler ordered an extension to be built in the village of Brzezinka, to be constructed and inhabited by Soviet prisoners of war and to hold 100,000 prisoners; this would become known as Birkenau.

 

Executions were common; the main place of execution in Auschwitz I was what is known as the death wall in Block 11. In September 1941, around 600 Soviet prisoners of war and 250 other prisoners were executed using Zyklon B in the cells of Block 11. As the Final Solution was being implemented throughout Europe and with the arrival of Jews at the camp, two makeshift gas chambers were constructed called ‘The little red house and little white house’; these were old, converted farm cottages located on the outskirts of Birkenau. As more and more Jews arrived, four more sophisticated gas chambers and crematoria were built. As Jews came into the camp, they were selected either to work or to die. Mothers with children, pregnant women, the elderly and disabled would be separated out on arrival. They were deceived into believing that they were going for a shower but were then gassed – Crematoria 2 and 3 had a capacity to gas approximately 1,400 victims each in one go and Crematoria 4 and 5 approximately 750 people each. Those who were not selected for death were taken to baths, shaved, tattooed, and given camp attire. Many had no idea that their families had been murdered until they were told by other prisoners. During its history, over 400,000 prisoners were registered in the camp. The wooden barracks which people were crammed into, sometimes up to 1000 people per building, were overrun with lice; this, along with unsanitary conditions, caused death from diseases such as typhus. Horrific medical experiments were conducted by camp doctors, mainly in Block 10, including by the feared Josef Mengele and Carl Clauberg. Mengele experimented primarily on twins and those with genetic conditions, such as dwarfism. Clauberg’s expertise was in the field of forced sterilisations.

 

In February 1943, Roma and Sinti families arrived and were housed in Birkenau in the so-called ‘Zigeuner Camp’ (Gypsy camp). Around 21,000 are believed to have been housed there. However, in August 1944, the liquidation of the Gypsy camp began, and they were all subsequently murdered in the gas chambers. In July 1943, families from Theresienstadt arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau. They too were housed together. The Nazis liquidated this camp in 2 stages, in March and July 1944, when they were all gassed.

 

In May 1944, the Hungarian Jews started arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau, some 400,000 of them; most were murdered in the gas chambers.

 

Sonderkommando (special squad), mainly Jews, were forced to work in the gas chambers, to help undress the victims, then remove and burn the bodies, and clean the gas chambers ready for the next transport. Some of these men even came across their family members in the piles of corpses. Their life expectancy was short as they were ‘Geheimnisträger’ (bearers of secrets): They were living witnesses of the extermination of the Jews of Europe. They staged an uprising on 7 October 1944 and destroyed Crematorium 4. Around 450 of them paid for it with their lives. Writings by the Sonderkommando were found in the grounds next to the ruins of the Crematorium, attesting to the atrocities witnessed. Those who did survive, went on to provide crucial information to the world regarding the genocide of the Jewish people.

 

Gassings ceased in early November 1944 and plans to dismantle the gas chambers and hide any evidence began. The camp was evacuated on 17-18 January 1945, as the Soviets closed in. Inmates were forced to march in sub-zero temperatures and if they could not keep up, were shot at the side of the road. The prisoners were then transported to other camps deep within the Reich. Soviet troops liberated Auschwitz on 27 January 1945. 1.3 million people perished in Auschwitz and of those around 1.1 million were Jews. Today, Auschwitz-Birkenau has hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, who bear witness to the crimes committed by the Nazis. It is one of only a handful camps which is still intact and is preserved by the Polish government and Jewish organisations.